2023 is a historic year for Many Hands. Fifteen years ago, Many Hands for Haiti was established as an organization. Over the past decade and a half, it has grown from a small group of compassionate individuals to a strong organization committed to transforming lives and communities in Haiti, The Bahamas, and our backyard. The organization Generously Grows Impact through its thrift markets in the United States, sustainable development efforts in Haiti, and Impact events and trips to Abaco, The Bahamas.
Pictured above: Tim Brand holds a child during his first trip to Haiti in 1998.
Foundation for the Vision
To fully grasp the trajectory of Many Hands’ journey, it’s crucial to rewind back to the mid-19th century to understand the foundation of working in Haiti. In 1947, Oran and Ashallos Bell became missionaries in Pignon, Haiti, serving 40 years in the field and leaving an indelible mark on the community. The Bells served the community and laid a foundation for missions for years to come.
A few decades later, Denny Brand, Many Hands CEO Tim Brand’s father, took his first trip to the small, rural community in Haiti’s central plateau called Pignon in 1986. This significant trip was the beginning of a strong bond between not only the Brand family but the whole community of Pella. In 1989, Pella’s Mayor, Johnny Menninga, signed Resolution 1948, adopting Pignon as Pella’s official sister city.
Pictured above: Denny Brand during his first trip to the rural area of Pignon, Haiti in 1986.
The Vision Begins
Following in his father’s footsteps, Tim, a recent grad of Pella High School in Iowa, joined a church group to help build a new school for the Christian Mission of Pignon in 1998. Not only did this trip change Tim’s perspective on God’s global heart, it also changed his life trajectory.
Tim’s mind and heart kept returning to Haiti throughout his college career. One night, he was praying about the direction of his life, and he heard God’s voice say to go back to Haiti. The next morning, he received an email from a mission team leader to be a college mentor on an upcoming trip. He agreed, and at the end of that trip, Tim made a covenant with God to be involved in Haiti in some way for the rest of his life. In 2002, Tim traveled with his fiance, Catie, taking their first trip to Haiti together as a couple, affirming their call to serve the country of Haiti.
In 2005, Tim and his wife Catie attended the Global Leadership Summit, hearing a combination of speakers share about holy discontents. This led to Tim grabbing a piece of paper and scribbling concepts for a different way to do ministry in Haiti. Over the next two years, these scribbles transformed into the foundation of Many Hands for Haiti.
While continuing to visit Pignon, Tim sought the necessary paperwork to establish Many Hands for Haiti as a 501(c)3 nonprofit in 2008. Day by day, God provided the needed people, resources, and direction for the organization, establishing the beginning vision for the Growing Community efforts in Haiti. Many Hands became an official 501(c)3 in 2009.
Pictured above: Tim Brand and his fiancé, Catie, take their first trip to Haiti as a couple in 2002.
Growth and Challenges
The organization grew, sending its first missionaries, Jared and Stacey Nikkel, in 2009 and Tim beginning full-time in 2011. The following year, 2012, the Pella Christian School of Pignon was opened.
Many Hands was growing state-side as well, with the next pivotal moment of the journey launching in 2013 with the opening of Many Hands Market in Spencer, Iowa, the first thrift store. Many volunteers and staff, including Craig and Christi Gabhart, spent countless hours building, opening, and operating the store. This store built the foundation for the trajectory of Many Hands for the decade to come, becoming the first of five Generosity Engines that ignited local and global generosity. Just over ten months after opening the Spencer store, the Gabharts moved to Pignon to become full-time missionaries with Many Hands.
Amidst success in the U.S., things in Haiti took a negative turn. A local mob incited by lies forcibly took Many Hands’ campus in Savanette. This was a difficult time and a waiting period for the organization as we prayed through the next move.
“Although we never want to walk through something like this again, God’s hand was upon us, guiding us each step of the way. It also served as a testament to the work we were doing, as we didn’t leave but stayed in the hard times. And because of this, we gained the trust of the area as they witnessed our level of commitment.” – Tim Brand
Pictured above: Many Hands Market in Spencer, IA
The Vision Re-Ignites
After much prayer and conversation with Haitian leaders, a campus was established in Sylvain in October 2015 with a Love-in-Action Center and living quarters for staff and teams.
“Given this unique opportunity to restart, we looked for signs of community peace and an understanding of truth, both being firm foundations to build upon. It was amazing to see the community of Sylvain rise to the top, stepping forward to welcome us in. They were willing to jump into the fire with us, guiding us to fantastic land and amazing people. God not only answered our prayers, but He did more than we could have imagined during this time,” comments Tim.
After opening this campus, programs hit the ground running, with the First 1,000 Days program launching and the Yellow Iron School of Light Preschool being built and open in the fall of 2016. These programs would lay the foundations for hundreds of families to receive support in the years to come.
After establishing the new campus, God continued to grow the vision with new partners and in new areas. Partnering with Lutheran Church of Hope in Des Moines, Many Hands poured 787 cement floors that year, impacting over 4,000 people in the Pignon area.
Pictured above: The first preschool class at The School of Light in 2016.
Many Hands Thrift continued to grow as we opened the second market in Grimes, Iowa. It started our presence in the Des Moines metro area, leading to a growth of staff and volunteers.
In October 2017, Many Hands took another significant step in our mission by partnering with the Reformed Church in America to establish the Husbandry Economic Project, a livestock program. This program targeted families with children in the School of Light preschool, each receiving a pregnant female goat. The beauty of the program lay in its sustainability: the offspring could be sold back to Many Hands, and the proceeds were then saved in Education Savings Accounts, providing a reliable source of educational funding.
Love in Action Begins
A month later, in November 2017, Many Hands launched the Love in Action initiative. This became the defining strategy for the next decade of ministry in Haiti. This initiative is a comprehensive strategy designed to strengthen families and foster community growth, signifying a bold new chapter in our ongoing commitment to transforming lives and communities.
Growth continued to multiply with a second Love-in-Action Center in Maliarette opening in January 2019 and the Sylvain Christian School of Light Fundamental School opening on the Sylvain campus in September of that year. This school provided education for 78 children, with the capacity to add a new class every year for the next eight years.
Pictured above: The second Love-in-Action center in Maliarette.
Unrest and Hardship Hits Haiti
2019 also marked a time of great difficulty for the country of Haiti, with a prolonged state of civil unrest in February. Major protests blocked roads and disrupted supply chains, leaving Many Hands to make the difficult decision to cancel Impact mission teams into March. It was not even a year later that the COVID-19 pandemic forced Many Hands to shut down its stores and programming and cancel Impact trips to Haiti.
The staff throughout the organization remained resilient and worked through the challenges to continue operations. Despite challenges, the third Many Hands Thrift Market opened in Clive in June of 2020 with the largest opening sales to date.
Many Hands continued to operate and grow through the prolonged difficulty caused by the pandemic and continued unrest in Haiti. July 2021 marked a dark period for Haiti with the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse. This tragedy compounded the existing political instability, causing a wave of uncertainty and fear to ripple through both the country and the international community.
Just a month later, the southern tip of Haiti was hit with a magnitude 7.2 earthquake. The following week, Tropical Storm Grace hit Haiti, leaving streets flooded and contributing to mudslides and rockslides. This combination of political unrest and natural disasters added a layer of complexity to the already challenging circumstances facing the nation.
Despite these challenges, Many Hands could continue operating programs with minimal interruption. We were in a strong enough position to mobilize emergency relief, working with Haitian leaders in southern Haiti to distribute 689,262 meals through local pastors to the affected areas.
Pictured above: The Many Hands team in Haiti prepares food for earthquake releif.
The Vision Expands
Again, growth marked the organization. The fourth and largest Many Hands Thrift Market opened in November 2021 in Des Moines, and the third Love-in-Action Center opened in Jean Boule in March 2022. By the end of 2022, Many Hands supported 400 caregivers and children under the age of two through its centers in Haiti and welcomed 302,172 customers through the door at stores.
2022 also brought growth as Many Hands met with Bahamian government officials to explore the opportunity to establish programs in Abaco, the Bahamas. Operations officially launched in January 2023 to serve Haitian refugees and low-income Bahamian communities.
Expanding into Abaco opened up the opportunity to relaunch the international Impact trips for the first time since 2019. These trips are one step of the larger Impact Journey, which consists of local and global transformative experiences that foster deeper relationships with oneself, God, and their community.
Pictured above: The Many Hands team meets with Bahamian Government Officials to discuss work in Abaco.
A part of the foundational story came full circle in June of 2023. Many Hands opened the fifth Love-in-Action Center in Mè Bel Mè dedicated to Denny Brand, who passed away in December 2021.
“Back in 2004, our family raised money to build a school in Haiti. It was in a very rural part of the Pignon area, and we were not able to maintain work in the area for various reasons. Because of the growth of Many Hands and the memorial money raised through my father’s death, we were able to go back to this original area and now do full-lifecycle programming. This was always what my father wanted, but it was not possible 20 years ago. Now it is. God’s faithfulness to bring life from death is evident,” explains Tim.
Pictured above: The Brand family with Many Hands’ Haitian staff at the dedication of the fifth Love-in-Action Center.
God’s Vision Continues
As Many Hands embarks on the 15th year of Love in Action through Generously Growing Impact, there is so much to reflect on. The organization has faced challenges and uncertainties, but through them all, the mission has remained steadfast. Many Hands’ commitment to fostering community growth and strengthening families has allowed the organization to continuously expand its reach, impacting countless lives in Haiti and beyond.
“We’ve learned so much over these past 15 years, and so many different people have played various roles. Only God can orchestrate that. Because of what we’ve seen in the past 15 years, we look toward the next 15 years with great anticipation. There is a strong foundation to build upon to reach the nations, as God continues to give us a grander vision,” states Tim.
Honoring the roots, Many Hands looks forward to the future with hope and enthusiasm, ready to face new challenges and opportunities. Here’s to another 15 years of Love in Action, tirelessly working toward transforming lives and communities.